2 classrooms in Bentonville will tackle behavioral issues

BENTONVILLE -- The Bentonville School District plans to open two classrooms this fall specifically for elementary school students who struggle with severe behavioral issues.

Each classroom will accommodate up to six students from across the district. Sugar Creek Elementary School will open a classroom for kindergartners and first-graders, and Baker Elementary School will open a classroom for second- through fourth-graders. Each will be staffed with a teacher and a paraprofessional educator.

"The goal is not for each student to be placed there permanently," said Tanya Sharp, executive director of student services. "We want to transition the students back to their home campus."

The district will provide transportation for students going to a behavior classroom from another school, Sharp said.

Bentonville has experienced a significant increase in the number of elementary students whose behavior is disruptive, to the point principals must intervene. Their behavior can be violent or destructive, Sharp said.

"You'll see principals shake their head because it's so common within the schools," Superintendent Debbie Jones told the School Board last month.

The district this past school year received a dozen workers' compensation claims attributed to injuries occurring while staff members interacted with disruptive children, according to district officials.

Officials estimated the cost of implementing the behavior classrooms at $110,542 for the 2017-18 school year. The teachers and aides chosen for the classrooms will receive special training.

"We are trying to highly train the person in the room so that they want to stay there," Jones said. "We're trying to provide all the resources to help make this classroom successful. While it may be really allocating some resources to a small group of kids, the greater good is that those kids in the classroom are not having their education disturbed so frequently."

There will be a referral process by committee for the behavior classrooms. The committee will have five or six people, including an administrator, a teacher, a behavior specialist and a special-education specialist, according to Sharp.

The district has criteria that must be met for a student to be placed in a behavior classroom. A student must have been shown to have a substantial effect on the learning environment, and other interventions -- such as a parent-teacher conference to discuss the student's behavior -- must have been tried, Sharp said.

The district's data indicate most of the students who would be referred to a behavior classroom won't be special-education students, though some might be.

The district prefers its behavior classroom teacher to have special-education certification so the teacher can meet the objectives of the individualized education plan for a special-education student. Each elementary building has a special-education team to assist the teacher if necessary, Sharp said.

Board member Joe Quinn asked about the appeal process for families who might oppose putting their child in a behavior classroom. Families will be involved in the process leading up to placement, including development of a "behavior plan," one of the intervention methods, Sharp said.

Jones said she doesn't expect parents will appeal because the parents see the behaviors.

"They're looking for any answer to keep their kids in school," she said. "So this is not something parents appeal. They're usually seeking this alternate placement."

Moving students as young as 5 to a school that's unfamiliar to them is less of a concern to administrators than making sure their behavior is under control so they can learn.

"When the behavior is such that it's keeping them from learning, that's what we have to focus on," Sharp said.

Charles Lee, assistant superintendent for general administration with the Rogers School District, said Rogers also has seen an increase in students with severe behavioral problems.

"It is a major concern of many schools. It's not just a Bentonville issue," Lee said. "We are seeing a larger need for services for students having difficulty socially and emotionally."

State Desk on 07/02/2017

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